Is placing a pregnant employee on unpaid leave after a brief illness discriminatory?


Anna, a records administrator for a health maintenance organization, was five months pregnant when she missed two days of work due to a pregnancy-related illness. When she returned to work, she was called into her supervisor’s office and told that “her body was trying to tell her something” and that “her attendance was becoming a serious problem.” Anna reminded him that she had only missed two days and that her doctor had found no continuing complications related to her brief illness. However, he responded, “Well, now that you're pregnant, you will probably miss a lot of work, and we need someone who will be dependable.” The supervisor then placed Anna on an unpaid leave of absence and told her she could return to work after the baby was born and she had recuperated. Anna filed an EEOC charge, accusing her employer of discriminating against her by making assumptions about her based on her pregnancy. Is she correct?


In this instance, yes. The supervisor’s comments and action of placing Anna on leave indicated impermissible sex discrimination under Title VII. During the EEOC’s investigation of Anna’s charge, the employer claimed that Anna was placed on leave because of poor attendance; however, the investigation revealed that Anna had an excellent attendance record before being placed on unpaid leave. In the prior year, she had missed only three days of work because of illness, including two days for her pregnancy-related illness and one day when she was ill before she became pregnant. The investigator concluded that the employer subjected Anna to impermissible sex discrimination by basing its action on a stereotypical assumption that pregnant women are poor attendees and that Anna would be unable to meet the requirements of the job.

Source: EEOC Guidance: “Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities,” reported in the Employment Practices Guide, New Developments ¶5243.

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